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This week is Sunshine Week hosted by the News Leaders Association! Begun in 2005 to highlight and promote open government, FOIA and access to government information (well that’s how we here at FGI celebrate it 😉 ), you can track on what’s happening this week on the Sunshine Week twitter account, share your own Sunshine Week happenings at #sunshineweek, and also check out the information in Sunshine Week toolkit for how to get involved, interesting events, inspiration and resources for teachers, librarians, journalists, and school, civic or non-profit organizations.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED:
Publish Sunshine Week content toolkit: Major news organizations work together on a special reporting package free for anyone to publish in print or online during Sunshine Week, made available at the start of the week’s events. Find this year’s offerings under Content Toolkit.
Share your stories: Sunshine Week celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020, and we’ve made a lot of gains in open government thanks to your work. Please share your experiences, success stories, FOIA battles, new laws and other efforts on behalf of open government. Tweet to us @SunshineWeek or use #SunshineWeek to share.
Join us March 18: In partnership with First Amendment Coalition, we’re hosting a discussion on navigating barriers to public records and fighting for open government. Make sure to register here.
If you are in the world of journalism, you can highlight the importance of openness through stories, editorials, columns, cartoons or graphics.
If you are part of a civic group, you can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or press elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.
If you are an educator, you can use Sunshine Week to teach your students about how government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.
If you are an elected official, you can pass a resolution supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing laws mandating open records and meetings.
If you are a private citizen, you can write a letter to the editor or spread the word to friends through social media.
Inspectors General are a little known unit within many federal agencies. They were set up in the 1970s to “identify waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government.” Their reports can be found on Oversight.gov as well as the non-governmental website Oversight.garden (there is some duplication between the sites, but the garden also posts some unreleased IG reports). Though IG reports fall within the scope of the FDLP, many of these reports have historically fallen through the cracks — they’re a goldmine of fugitive documents for anyone interested in reporting them to GPO to collect and catalog, but that’s a whole other story.
While these offices normally conduct independent audits and investigations and make recommendations to fix waste, fraud and abuse well below the radar of the public, lately they’ve been in the news as the Trump Administration has fired or sidelined several IGs for highly political reasons — notably including the Intelligence Community IG, the State Department IG, the Acting Transportation Department IG, the Acting Health and Human Services IG, and the Acting Pentagon IG who was chosen to serve as the head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee created by Congress on March 27, 2020.
The administration’s actions has brought Congress — historically very supportive of IGs — to a boiling point, with a new bill introduced H.R. 6668: Inspectors General Independence Act of 2020 to “amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to require removal for cause of Inspectors General, and for other purposes.” This is surely an issue which every depository librarian will want to keep an eye on.
To learn more about these little known but important internal watchdogs embedded in many executive agencies, check out this report by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) entitled “THE WATCHDOGS AFTER FORTY YEARS: Recommendations for Our Nation’s Federal Inspectors General” (published July 9, 2018). POGO also more recently produced the really informative youtube video below.
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Happy Sunshine Week, the week where we celebrate government transparency, FOIA and all things open government information! There’s lots happening this week including the upcoming 1/2 day live and streaming celebration at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). But there’s also work to be done. Evidently, appropriators are holding up the smart, pro-transparency “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act” scheduled for a floor vote on Tuesday. Contact your Representative today and tell them to pass this important act!
There’s too much news happening this week to list it all — make sure to subscribe to the First Branch Forecast weekly newsletter published by Daniel Schuman and his crack team at Demand Progress to keep up to date! — but I did want to highlight the good news coming out of the LIBRARY of Congress. Slowly but surely, they’re expanding the number of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports being published on their site crsreports.congress.gov. They still don’t have the coverage of EveryCRSReport.com which includes 14,742 CRS reports (and still growing) but LoC is getting there so good on them. Celebrate Sunshine Week by leaving LoC a comment and contacting your Representative to tell them to vote for “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act”. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!!
Since launching, we’ve added hundreds of new reports and are working hard to include the back catalog of older CRS reports – a process that is expected to be complete later this month. Today, you can access more than 2,300 reports on topics ranging from the Small Business Administration to farm policy.
Starting this week, the Library is making additional product types available on the site. The site now includes In Focus products, which are two-page executive level briefing documents on a range of policy issues. For example, recent topics include military medical malpractice and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant. Another newly-added product type is the Insight, which provides short-form analysis on fast moving or more focused issues. Examples of topics include volcano early warning systems and Congressional Member Organizations. Users can filter by product type using the faceted search on the left hand of the search results page.
McClatchyDC reports that The White House comment line is shut down, that new signatures aren’t being counted on petitions posted on the White House’s website, that Federal agencies are not allowed to respond to requests, that transcripts, executive orders and news releases aren’t being posted online, that social media accounts, including Flickr, Pinterest and Tumblr, are no longer in use, and that sending information to the Federal Register is delayed.
- Trump White House is leaving the public in the dark. Is it growing pains – or a plan? by Anita Kumarakumar, McClatchyDC (February 3, 2017 3:33 PM ).
The report also says that the Trump administration revamp of the the White House website eliminated references to gay and lesbian issues and global warming and the Spanish-language website.
Ben Marchi, a Trump supporter and longtime Republican operative is quoted as saying, “It’s far too early to sound the alarm bells.”
When asked if he thinks these problems are intentional or a normal part of the overwhelming task of a transition, Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, said, “I don’t know because no one is telling us.”
The White House did not respond to a request from McClathyDC for comment.
The news out of Washington DC is not good if you’re a government information librarian or an open government advocate. In the last 24 hours, the Trump administration has put a freeze on EPA grants and contracts and ordered USDA science researchers to “cease publication of ‘outward facing’ documents and news releases.” Not only does this have a massive negative impact on scientific research — and the thousands of researchers and students who rely on federal grants to do their work and live on a day-to-day basis! — but it also shuts the door on our government’s communication with its citizens. Stay tuned and aware that this is going on, and by all means contact your representatives to let them know that this is NOT all right!